Richard Spiegel, Owner of Volcano Island Honey Co, just got back from a trip to the East Coast to visit family, friends, and bees. He went to Vermont and stopped in for a visit with Ross Conrad, Owner of Dancing Bee Gardens and author of Natural Beekeeping, which has been a source of inspiration for beekeepers at Volcano Island Honey for years.
Richard found that he and Ross share a similar philosophy when it comes to beekeeping and the role of bees on the earth. Volcano Island Honey produces an organic, artisan honey that requires a high degree of attunement with the cycles of the bees. In order to maintain a close relationship with the bees Richard has kept the business intentionally small, managing between 130-150 hives. Most commercial beekeepers manage thousands of hives. Speaking to the organic approach in Natural Beekeeping, Ross Conrad says, “This emphasis on quality over quantity is perhaps the defining notion of the organic agricultural movement.”
A focus on quality over quantity has made Volcano Island Honey the company that it is. VIHC always leaves enough honey for the bees, so that the hive can maintain itself in the way that nature intended. Many large commercial apiaries take all of the honey from the bees and then feed the bees sugar- not their natural food! VIHC also uses “bee escapes” as a less invasive and non-violent way to vacate bees from the hive before harvesting. This is more labor intensive, but it is more gentle to the bees and does not kill bees. VIHC respects the bees as intelligent beings and teachers, instead of as a tool for making honey and money. We also make our own wax foundation, using our own beeswax to avoid beeswax from other sources that may be contaminated by toxins & chemicals.
Richard sees the bees as teachers- even after working closely with the bees for over 30 years he continues to learn lessons from the bees. Bees teach us many things about cooperative society and environmental sustainability. Beekeeping is an agricultural endeavor that has a positive environmental footprint. The bees give back and make the environment in which they live a better place. Not only do they share their incredible gifts of honey and wax, but they also help pollinate the area and increase the agricultural output of the trees and plants. Quoting Ross from Natural Beekeeping, “The honey bee inspires me to work into my daily life this lesson: That we should give something back and improve upon things, thus making the world a better place.” VIHC strives to make the world a better place through conscious management of every aspect of the business. However, even with all of this striving, it is very hard to create a positive environmental impact while running a business. The activities of the bees are an environmental plus, but the impact of the human activities of packaging and shipping are hard to avoid and hard to mitigate. “It is easy to talk about being a sustainable business, but it is very hard to live these things, try as we might,” says Richard Spiegel.
Bees are truly one of the natural wonders of the world- they make honey and wax- two things that humans have found very useful for thousands of years. Humans have figured out how to make wax from petroleum (yuck! beeswax candles are superior in every way!) but not to make honey. “Honey is something so precious and special; even with our highly developed technological sciences, we humans still have not been able to duplicate the efforts of the simple honey bee and create the same substance from what amounts to nothing more than sugar and water,” says Conrad in Natural Beekeeping. VIHC believes in using the honey as close to its natural state as possible and keeps the honey raw. Just like Volcano Island Honey, Dancing Bee Gardens also produces organic, raw honey.
So who’s smarter- Man or Bee? Well…you decide!
Watch this video of Ross Conrad speaking about his discovery of beekeeping and his all-natural methods for maintaining a healthy and thriving bee population.